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Bao Nguyen charges his Hyundai Ioniq5 at a fast charging station in Napanee, Ont. His car was charging at 62 kilowatts and he said the fastest he’d seen was 84 kilowatts. His car is capable of charging at 350 kilowatts, says the carmaker.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

The claims for recharging electric vehicles on the road sound great.

“Quick charge for less than 4.5 minutes to get 100 kilometres of driving range,” says the marketing for the Kia EV6. “Or go from 10 to 80 per cent charge in less than 18 minutes.” The BMW iX: “00.06h [six minutes] at the high-power charging station for 100 kilometres [of] range.” The Volkswagen ID.4: “Up to 100 kilometres in approximately 10 minutes.”

So I set out to make the most of the high-powered charging capabilities of these three vehicles.

Last month, I drove the Kia EV6 from my home outside Toronto to Ottawa, about 350 kilometres each way. It has an 800-volt electric system, which it shares with the Hyundai Ioniq5 and is capable of recharging at twice the speed of almost every other production EV in Canada. The only other 800-volt EV is the pricey Porsche Taycan.

The plan was simple: Set out with a full charge, make one quick stop along the way at a Level 3 charger, then plug in overnight in Ottawa. Repeat for the drive home. My top-of-the-line EV6 tester had a claimed potential range of 441 kilometres, though at minus 6 degrees, that became 300.

I also wanted to try out the new Ivy charging network, which is a joint venture between Ontario Power Generation and Hydro One. It’s installing fast chargers at the ONRoute service centres along Highway 401. The February press release said the 150-kilowatt chargers were now available at the centre near Kingston, “delivering up to a 100-kilometre charge in 10 minutes.” We’d pull in, plug in, visit the washroom and buy a coffee, then leave right away with enough power to easily make it all the way to Ottawa.

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The Kia EV6 at an Ivy charging station at an ONroute.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

Except, when I pulled in and plugged in to the shiny new charger, nothing happened. First, I had to download an app. Then I had to register my credit card on the app. Still nothing happened, so I moved to another charger. Again, nothing happened. I phoned the number on the charger and spoke to an agent who could find no record of the chargers in his system. “It might be so new that it’s not yet online,” he said.

No big deal. I drove to a nearby Petro-Canada station. Petro-Canada has a coast-to-coast system of 107 fast chargers – up to 350 kilowatts – that only need a credit card to use and don’t require a membership, just like a gas pump.

There were two chargers, side by side at the gas station. I plugged into the first. I tapped my credit card and typed in my phone number for updates. It roared to life and showed it would charge at 62 kilowatts – not the 250 kilowatts the EV6 is apparently capable of – but then promptly stopped. “Charging failed,” it said. “Charging has been interrupted. Reconnect to start a new charging session.” I reconnected, twice, and got the same result.

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Display shows the Kia EV6 is charging at 66 kilowatts, well below its advertised limit, at a Petro-Canada in Brockville, Ont.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

So I moved the car to the other charger. This time, the reader for my credit card didn’t work. “Please call customer assistance to start a charging session,” it said. I dialled the number, which was the main line for all of Petro-Canada, found my way through the numbered menus to EV charging assistance, and was told I would be on hold for about 10 minutes before anyone would answer the call and take my money.

I drove on to the next Level 3 charger along the route in Brockville, 80 kilometres away. My range was now low and I was growing concerned. I could charge at a Level 2, I reassured my wife in the passenger seat, but that would probably take a couple of hours to top up with enough power to get us to Ottawa.

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Level 2 chargers, which use alternating current, are fairly commonplace now. Natural Resources Canada estimates there are more than 12,000 public Level 2s across Canada. They are the same chargers you would install at your home for $1,000 to $2,000, and they provide up to 19.2 kilowatts of charging, which is usually enough to fully recharge an EV overnight.

Level 3 direct-current chargers are more rare. They cost around $70,000 each, plus installation, and they’re designed to ram huge quantities of electricity into your vehicle as quickly as possible. Most are rated for 50 kilowatts, but many are half that. Some, like those at Petro-Canada and Electrify Canada and the Tesla Superchargers are rated for 150 kilowatts and a few for 350 kilowatts.

Natural Resources Canada says there are more than 1,250 Level 3 charging stations in Canada, with a total of about 3,150 chargers. That’s almost 900 more chargers than a year ago. They’re the ones you want for a relatively quick fill-up or top-up along the way.

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A low-battery warning shows only 12 kilometres of range remain when Mark Richardson reached Brockville on his drive to Ottawa.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

We reached Brockville with 12 kilometres of range left. There are two Level 3 stations there, one Petro-Canada and one Electrify Canada. The Electrify Canada station was in the parking lot of a Canadian Tire, and it was now long after dark. I chose the Petro-Canada because it was closer and handy for fast food.

This station worked, but the fastest it would charge at was 66 kilowatts. It took just over 40 minutes to provide an additional 170 kilometres of range, and we spent the time sitting in the car, eating burritos. The total cost was $13.89, far less than the roughly $30 I would have paid for enough gas to take me the same distance, but I was paying 33 cents for every minute of charge, not for the total amount of power delivered. The car was apparently capable of being charged at four times the speed, which would have quartered my cost.

Later, I contacted Petro-Canada to ask why I had to pay by the minute, whether the power surged or trickled through the cable. “The Petro-Canada EV Fast Chargers have a price-per-minute charge, which is the most common pricing for EV chargers in Canada. This pricing ranges from $0.20-0.33 per minute or $11-20 per hour,” a spokesperson wrote in response. ”Price per kilowatt-hour charge is not an option that is currently available, as only utility companies are able to charge for electricity [in that way] at this time. This could change in the future, as the environment continues to mature and regulations change.”

That night, I plugged the car into a Level 2 charger outside my hotel and it was almost completely refueled by the morning. On the drive home, I plugged into a Petro-Canada 350-kilowatt charger at Napanee and spent half an hour charging at up to 90 kilowatts. This time, at that speed, I got almost the same amount of power and range delivered as in Brockville for $3.65 less, and 10 minutes faster.

While I was there, an Ioniq5 drove up and plugged in next to me. Bao Nguyen, an electrical engineer from Ottawa, told me he had three kilometres of range left, driving home from Toronto. His wife was asleep in the back seat and he’d chosen not to disturb her to draw attention to this fact.

“I wasn’t too concerned,” he said. “I had it all planned out. I had that three kilometres left.”

He’d owned the Ioniq5 for one week, his first electric car, and he said he loved it. His car was charging at 62 kilowatts and he said the fastest he’d seen was 84 kilowatts.

I got home and moaned about these inconsistencies to my neighbour, whose wife drives an Audi e-tron that they charge in their garage every night. “This is why I’m buying a Tesla,” he said. “I’ve had eight Audis in a row, but I need to make a long drive once a week. Now that I’m going electric, I just want to plug in at a Tesla supercharger and not worry about it. I’m fed up with public fast chargers.” Tesla does not make its chargers available to non-Tesla drivers.

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A BMW iX and a Volkswagen ID.4 at an Electrify Canada fast charging station in Oshawa.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

When I returned the EV6 to Kia, I stopped at the Electrify Canada station in Oshawa to charge it up. Electrify Canada has a dual-pricing structure: If your car is capable of fast charging up to 150 kilowatts, you’ll be charged 57 cents a minute, but if it’s less capable with a limit of up to 90 kilowatts, you’ll be charged 27 cents a minute.

I plugged in and after five minutes, with the battery now charged to 41 per cent, the fastest the car would refuel at a charger capable of 150 kilowatts was 69 kilowatts. Again, far short of the capability. When I returned the car, the Kia person told me that others had rarely seen speeds of more than 70 kilowatts.

I spoke with Robert Barrosa, senior director of sales and marketing for Electrify Canada, and asked why his charger hadn’t thrust power far more quickly into my EV.

“If it’s around freezing, temperature has a lot to do with the charge rate,” he said. “The way it works is that the vehicle is in control. There’s a communication that happens between the vehicle and the charger, and then the vehicle begins to request the amount of current from the charger, and the charger has to deliver that within a certain time frame.

“The vehicle itself, if it’s been soaked in cold weather for some time, will tend to charge more slowly, and I think that’s probably what you experienced.”

In other words, Barossa held that it was the car’s fault, not the charger’s, and despite the car having a heat pump and battery warming, a temperature of zero degrees will slash the charging ability of the EV6 to a quarter of its potential.

I was unconvinced and Barrosa asked if his team could check my records against their own data. When they got back to me, they acknowledged that “regarding your charging sessions in Oshawa, analytics showed a derated [slower than optimal] charging speed, and our technicians are awaiting a part to remedy those challenges.”

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An Electrify Canada fast charging station in Oshawa. Electrify Canada has a dual-pricing structure: If your car is capable of fast charging up to 150 kilowatts, you’ll be charged 57 cents a minute, but if it’s less capable with a limit of up to 90 kilowatts, you’ll be charged 27 cents a minute.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

But on top of that, because I had a more capable charger, I was paying twice the cost of delivery, even though the delivery I was getting was well below the 90-kilowatt maximum of the smaller, cheaper charger.

“I understand where you’re coming from,” Barrosa said. “We’ll take that back as feedback.”

Most important, why was I paying by the drawn-out minute and not for the total amount of power actually delivered?

“Ultimately, we believe that kilowatt-hour pricing [the total amount delivered] is the most fair,” said Barrosa, “but in Canada, the rules aren’t set up yet to allow companies like ours to charge by the kilowatt-hour.

“It’s really the most fair and honest way to charge for the energy we dispense.” As Barrosa explained it, kilowatt-hour pricing in Canada has typically been reserved for utilities, and utilities typically have a monopoly in their territory to be the electrical distributor. To change that, public policy and laws will need to be amended, and that will take time.

A colleague who later charged an EV6 at the same recharger saw speeds of up to 130 kilowatt-hours in higher single-digit temperatures – still far short of the 250 kilowatts the car is capable of, and half its claim of 100 kilometres in 4.5 minutes.

I returned the Kia EV6 and collected a BMW iX. “The thing with journalists,” said the BMW guy, “is that you think of every drive as a road trip. Most people don’t do many road trips. They drive to work and to the store and to visit people. They don’t drive far in a day, and if they can charge their electric cars overnight at home, they never even think about range.”

He’s right, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Bimmer is capable of charging at up to 190 kilowatts and, long story short, it never achieved more than 52 kilowatts. In fact, I had to return it only half charged, without the 75-per-cent charge that BMW requested, because that would have delayed its return by an extra hour.

And the Volkswagen ID.4? It’s rated for 120 kilowatts. I never did see the speed of a fast charge on it because when I went to refuel at my local Petro-Canada Level 3 station in Cobourg, both chargers were broken.

I did see an ID.4 charging at the full rate of 120 kilowatts at an Electrify Canada station while I tried to charge the BMW, but the owner seemed in no mood to speak with me about her car. Probably just as well. I was in a hurry.

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